Adrian Monk, Columbo, Sherlock Holmes… Some of the best-known homicide detectives in TV and film – and perhaps the inspiration behind your contemplation of becoming one yourself.
If you really are considering this career path, then you might want to know a thing or two more about what the job is really like, how much it pays and, basically, how to become a homicide detective.
And, well, you’ve come to the right place.
1. Research the profession
Before we continue and tell you how to become a homicide detective, here’s an overview of what the profession entails.
Homicide investigators are responsible for – you got it – investigating and solving murder cases. Their day-to-day duties typically involve:
- Gathering evidence to establish the cause of death
- Conducting investigations on murder and homicide cases to initiate a trial
- Interviewing witnesses
- Finding and arresting suspects
- Interrogating suspects
- Compiling evidence and solving murder or homicide cases
- Following crucial leads to gather more information or make more arrests
- Processing forensic or legal evidence
- Working on surveillance
- Consulting with medical examiners, forensic anthropologists, entomologists and ballistic experts
Essential skills and qualities
To work as a homicide detective, you’ll generally need to:
- Have excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Be able to remain objective
- Be highly adept at gathering information and drawing conclusions based on facts and observations
- Be comfortable and skilled with guns
- Have leaderships skills
- Be able to multitask
- Have empathy
- Be perceptive
- Keep clear and accurate records
- Have a strong stomach
- Be physically fit
Working hours and conditions
Working as a homicide detective is no ordinary 9-to-5 job. Murders happen at all times of the day, meaning you’ll work at all times of the day. You can expect long hours, working during the evening, on weekends and overtime.
It’s a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding profession. You’ll not only have to often deal with gruesome and stomach-churning crime scenes, where victims can be adult criminals or innocent children, but you’ll also have to deal with grieving loved ones.
While most of your work will be conducted in the field, you will also spend time in an office writing reports.
It should also be noted that this is also a dangerous profession as confrontation with suspects is common. The job comes with a great deal of personal risk or injury, including death.
Moreover, there is much scientific reporting on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with homicide detectives, as well as high suicide rates.
The average starting salary for detectives in the UK is £24,000 and up to £35,000. Their earnings gradually increase to £45,000 as detective sergeants and up to £50,000 as highly experienced detective inspectors.
In the United States, the median annual salary for all detective and criminal investigators is $78,120, according to official government statistics.
2. Get the qualifications
In order to become a homicide detective in the US, you’ll need to first serve as a police officer. You’ll generally need to meet the following requirements:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Be a legal citizen of the US
- Pass a criminal background check
- Hold a driving licence
- Be in good physical health
You might also be asked to pass an aptitude or induction test.
Upon qualification, you will be required to complete training at a federal-approved academy.
Although not necessary, a college degree in an area related to the profession can be beneficial. Typical areas of study include:
- Crime scene investigations
- Criminal administration
- Criminal justice
- Forensic chemistry
- Forensic science
- Justice administration
- Police science
Holding an associate or bachelor’s degree in a subject like criminology, psychology or sociology can also improve your employment prospects.
In the UK, the entry requirements are similar to those in the US. You’ll need to:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have the right to stay and work in the UK
- Pass background and security checks
Again, you’ll need to work as a police officer for a minimum of two years before becoming a police constable and specialising in a particular area of policing.
If you’ve got a degree, you might be able to undertake the Graduate Leadership Development Programme offered by Police Now.
Meanwhile, you may be able to find online training courses to become qualified as a detective.
3. Land your first job
The first step to becoming a homicide detective in the US involves securing employment as a police officer or sheriff’s deputy and gaining experience in a patrol capacity for a number of years.
You’ll generally start working in other areas of investigation such as auto theft, robbery and larceny.
If you’re in the UK, check out the College of Policing for more information about vacancies in England and Wales. Alternatively, visit the Metropolitan Police website for job opportunities with the Met.
If becoming a homicide detective doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, but still want to become a detective, you may want to consider the following routes:
- Assault and battery
- Auto theft
- Computer crime
- Domestic violence
- Juvenile crime
- Missing persons
- Organised crime
- Sexual assault
4. Develop your career
A master’s degree and other advanced criminal justice degrees can help take your law enforcement career to the next level. Some of the best universities in the US offering such degrees include:
- American Military University
- California Coast University
- Columbia Southern University
- Norwich University
- University of Wisconsin-Platteville
Ongoing training is necessary for any homicide detective, and includes re-certification or courses in law enforcement skills and procedures. Many law enforcement agencies, professional associations and third party organisations offer continuing education classes, seminars and training workshops.
Through experience and continuing education, you may be able to advance in rank within your department. For example, you could go on to oversee the work of lower ranking detectives and regular police offers.
As a detective working in the UK, you could work your way up to chief inspector and then superintendent, and on to assistant chief constable and chief constable. You might also consider finding work for the security services like the MI5 and MI6 (from Sherlock Holmes to James Bond), the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence.
Are you considering a career as a homicide detective? Perhaps you’ve already entered the profession and would like to impart your wisdom with those considering following in your footsteps? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us!
Salary information is based on data compiled and published by Reed and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. US dollar – Pound sterling conversions are based on rates supplied by XE.com on 21 August 2017.
This article was originally published in December 2016.